30 Travel tips from (almost) 20 years of travelling

30 travel tips

Doing maths in the morning is never a signal that the day will go well (for me). But when it means working out exactly how long I’ve been hopping on planes to the other side of the world, there’s a slight silver lining. Yes, I’m older than I feel or remember, but that also means I’ve got a lot of scope to give travel tips.

My family stepped onto a plane for the first time back when I was 7-years-old, but I’m not counting that. Unless you want the experiences of a motion-sick child stuck on a plane for 20-odd hours. Instead, I’m using my first family-free plane ride when I was 15, as a marker. It spans the gamut of  landing in airports where security forces use AK47’s as their weapon of choice to flight delays and cancellations. Then there’s forgetting things at home, not looking exactly the same as your teenage passport photo, and negotiating stop overs. I’ve done it all (except lose my passport *knock wood*).

If you’re a little scared at the prospect of taking your first flight, or going on a trip on your own, there’s no need to worry.

TRAVEL TIPS: BEFORE YOU GO

If I’m feeling overly-organised, I’ll divide a holiday or trip into three parts: Before, the flight, and the actual holiday. So that’s how we’re tackling these travel tips today as well. That way you know exactly what you have to think about as you go along.

1.Take Time Zones into Account

When you’re looking to book flights overseas (and even interstate in the US), don’t forget to take time zones into account. The date and time the flight leaves will be set in your departure state time zone, while your landing date and time is shown in your arrival state/country time zone.

2. Leave Enough Layover Time

When you’re booking flights that aren’t direct to your destination, look carefully at the layover times. An hour between flights at an airport like LA International is nowhere near enough time to disembark from one plane, collect baggage, go through security and board your next flight. Remember to take the possibility of late departures or longer flight times into account. Give yourself enough time to get from one flight to the next without having to be stressed. If you’re not sure, call your airline for advice.

3. Don’t Book More Than 45 Days Out

Having said that, I do this all the time. But apparently flight prices are more prone to fluctuation and deals if you book less than 45 days before departure. Of course, don’t take this to the limit, because booking a week ahead is usually going to result in sky-high prices.

4. Check Your Passport First

Passport, world map and camera
Before planning an international trip, check your passport’s expiry date.

Whatever you do, don’t book an international flight without first checking your passport’s expiration date. Some countries won’t let you in if you have six months of less left before your passport expires. Many Consulates offer emergency passport renewals for an extra fee, so don’t despair if you’ve forgotten to check before booking.

5. Read the Fine Print

It doesn’t actually have to be the really fine print either. These days, lots of airlines not only offer different classes of flight – they also offer packages with different terms and conditions. That could mean baggage isn’t included in the fee or a particular class of ticket doesn’t allow refunds or changes once booked. There’s always the possibility of the unexpected coming up (illness, a house fire etc) that may put an end to your trip. Make sure you know what you signed up for beforehand.

6. Get Insurance

I can’t stress this enough. By conservative estimate, I’ve been a passenger on at least 50 planes in my time, and I’ve never once gone without insurance. Check if one of your credit cards offers a free insurance policy if you pay for a flight with that card. There’s no point doubling up on policies. If you’re buying insurance, don’t just go with the first company or policy you find. Make sure it covers what you want or need it to before handing over any money.

7. Choose a Seat

If you definitely want a window or aisle seat, your best bet is to book it while booking your plane ticket. Sometimes airlines will charge an extra, minimal fee for this service. But if you’re dead-set on a certain seat, or flying long-haul, this is the best way to guarantee you won’t be stuck next to the loo. Use websites like Seat Guru to help choose your seat properly.

8. Don’t Overpack

Those three bags you’ve packed have to get from the baggage carousel to your hotel somehow, and usually that means you’re going to have to lug them around. Especially if you plan on taking public transport once you arrive at your destination. Also, do you really need five pairs of shoes? Lay out everything you’re planning to wear on a flat surface. Subtract anything that doesn’t pair with at least two other items of clothing. Think about how many days you’ll be away. Be reasonable!

9. Bring An Extra Tote

Man in airport with feet on luggage
Unless you’re a super-light packer, think about bringing a foldable extra bag with you.

This seems to be going against Travel Tip #8, but that all depends on the type of traveler you are. If you’re heading out with a half-empty suitcase, then you can probably ditch the extra tote. But if you’re a keen shopper or like to bring a few knick knacks home and your luggage is already full to the brim, this is your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. I can’t tell you how many times my tote has saved me on trips home from Melbourne.

10. Do Visa Research

Visits to different countries will require different visas. I thought that travelling to Canada on my Australian passport would be a breeze. Unfortunately I arrived at the flight check-in counter early that morning only to find out that I wouldn’t be allowed to board a plane without a tourist visa for Canada (which the website said I wouldn’t need). It’s best to double check these things well before your flight so you’re not barred from boarding at the last minute. Get more information on the US tourist visa here.

11. Don’t Exchange Too Much Cash

You don’t want to be stuck with too much foreign currency when you return from holiday. Plus some countries aren’t big on accepting higher denominations of cash. I learned that the hard way when I tried to pay for something using US$50 when I first arrived. I still don’t understand exactly why it’s so frowned upon. Just get a bit of money to help with tips and small purchases.

12. Alert Your Bank

You don’t need lots of foreign money because you’re most likely using a bank or credit card to pay for items overseas. What you don’t want, is for your bank to assume your card has been stolen and block it. Lots of financial institutions allow you to input any travel dates and destinations in your personal online portal. If they don’t, you can always call customer services to log your travel plans with them.

13. Check Your Mobile Phone Plan

Woman taking a selfie
Check what the international rates are for calls, texts and data on your phone before you leave.

Don’t be surprised by enormous global-roaming fees once you arrive home to your cell phone bill. Call your mobile phone provider and ask them what you’ll be charged and if you can switch to a plan with better rates for the duration of your time away. If you’ll be overseas for a long period of time, you can always buy a sim card from the country you’re visiting (as long as your handset is unlocked).

14. Make Copies of your Passport 

Losing your passport mid-trip is stressful to say the least. It’s always a good idea to have a colour photocopy of the identification page of your passport and visa with you just in case. They’ll make it a little easier to file police reports and get your new passport quickly. Doing this for other important documents doesn’t hurt either.

TRAVEL TIPS: IN THE AIR

Family at airport with passports

If you’re a nervous flier, this is when the butterflies start to form. You can find some great tips on conquering anxiety or fear of flying here. But the more prepared you are, the less likely you are to start to have butterflies. For first time, or new fliers, check out this list of things you should avoid on a plane or in an airport.

15. Weigh Your Baggage

There’s nothing worse than finding out that your luggage is overweight at the baggage drop. It’s happened to me twice. Once when I was moving to the US, and a couple of months ago when I was trying to bring every single Australian lolly, chip and cereal in existence back with me. Shuffling things between your carry on and suitcase is stressful and annoying. So weigh your bags at home before you leave and triple check your allowances.

16. Doing The Luggage Shuffle

If your scales were out or you just didn’t have time to weigh anything, don’t panic too much. There are a few easy items that you an shift from your luggage to your carry-on that will make a fair bit of difference to the weight distribution. To reduce weight in your luggage, try moving any pairs of jeans and shoes into your carry-on first. They often weigh the most and can save you a lot of dilly-dallying.

17. Leave Early

Think about the time you need to be at the airport, and then consider the time of day it’ll be. Will it be in the middle of rush hour traffic? Would it be smarter and quicker to catch a train in? Is there track work that day? You don’t want to be stressed or feel rushed at the airport, so make sure you’ve got plenty of time to get to the gate.

18. Be Ready for Check-In

Don’t be the person who’s rummaging around in a backpack for a passport or form of ID at the check-in desk. That’s if you’re not using the check-in kiosks that seem to be in every airport. Have your passport ready, bookmarked to the ID page, or whatever form of ID is acceptable. Don’t make everyone wait because you’re disorganised.

19. The Security Line

Family at airport security
This picture is wishful thinking. It almost never goes down like this.

It can snake for hours. In Toronto I waited an hour and a half to get through airport security and to my flight gate. This is where all that extra time you accounted for might get sucked up. There are a couple of things you can do to make the security dance go a little faster. Whatever you do, if you can avoid it, don’t line up behind a family. Especially if there are more than one or two young kids involved. It’s not their fault that the poor harassed parents need to wrangle their little ones while simultaneously removing jackets, shoes, iPads and everything else. It takes awhile. Your best bet is to find a business-looking traveller and fall in behind them. Not only can you copy them if you’re not sure of the protocol, but things generally move a bit faster.

20. Got Toiletries? Check The Rules

Since the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, airport security has clamped down on exactly what you can bring on a plane with you. Lots of them are commonsense: no flammable objects or weapons. There’s also a certain quantity of liquids you can bring on board in your check-in. Make sure you’ve accounted for it before hitting the security desk, otherwise you’ll find yourself saying goodbye to your favourite foundation or cleanser.

21. Eat Before Boarding

As mentioned somewhere above, I am notoriously travel sick. Which is not the right way to word that. But I spent the first 10 plane rides with my face mostly buried in a sick bag, which is embarrassing if you’re 16 and flying on your own. Those poor people I sat next to. Anyway, my trick now is to have something small to eat before boarding (nothing too heavy or stodgy) and busting out the travel sickness meds. That gives them time to work their magic and I can get through a flight without reaching for the dreaded sick bag.

22. Get To The Gate On Time

Don’t leave it till they’re calling your name over the PA and telling you that gates will close in a few minutes to amble up to your boarding gate. It’s annoying for everyone else sitting on the plane waiting to go. Also, while you’re sitting at the gate, waiting to board, why not get out the things you’ll need on the flight so you can just stow your hand luggage as soon as you find your seat?

23. Stay Hydrated

It’s so much easier to get dehydrated during a flight. So make sure you’re sipping water – bring your own onboard if you don’t want to be bothering flight attendants. While you’re at it, make sure you stretch your legs every now and then.

24. Leave The Money Belt At Home

You heard me. That thing that’s supposed to save you from pick pockets, is actually putting a big neon ‘tourist’ arrow right above your head. They’re just as easy to cut off you and run away with as a purse, and they’re also annoying. So I recommend leaving them at home. Not only because my dad forced me to wear one on every trip I took for years.

TRAVEL TIPS: HOLIDAY TIME

This is what you’ve been waiting for! Time to kick back and relax, get out and be adventurous, or pack in all the tourist destinations possible. Depending on the type of traveller you are. Personally, I’m a mixture of the second two options. But whatever your flavour of travel, there are still a few things you should know.

25. Visit Tourist Information

Woman holding a map
The Tourist Information Centre is where you’ll get the most up-to-date knowledge on a city.

I swear by these guys in every place I’ve ever visited. If you’re at a loss for things to do, or want to know how to get the best bargains, find the tourist information office and ask them loads of questions. I found myself in Santa Cruz on a whim one Sunday with no clue where to go or what to do. Within 10 minutes of entering tourist information, I had my whole day planned.

26. Lost? Find a Hostel

Further to the tourist information goldmines, you can always count on hostel front desk staff to be a fountain of knowledge. Not sure where you are or whether there are any good cafes or restaurants around? Ask at the hostel front desk. Honestly, they’re usually seeing heaps of people everyday. I doubt they’ll remember (or really care) if you’re staying with them or not.

27. Get Lost on Purpose

This isn’t usually a directive I have to think about, if I’m honest. I could get lost in a paper bag. And obviously use your discretion – some cities and towns are safer than others. What I mean is, go for a little wander. You’d be surprised at the gems you’ll find that weren’t necessarily mentioned in the three blog posts you read (we can’t cover EVERYTHING), or in the guidebooks. Of course, if you don’t have GPS enabled on your phone to find your way back, maybe take this tip with a grain of salt.

28. Ask For an Upgrade

Especially if you’re travelling for a special occasion in the off-season it doesn’t hurt to (nicely) ask for a room upgrade upon check-in. Obviously it’s at the hotel staff’s discretion and often hinges on availability, but you’ll never know unless you try!

29. Try The Local Delicacy

Snails in a line
I picked this photo especially to creep you out a little. They’re delicious!

Within reason, I guess. If you’re a vegetarian you get a pass on the meat-heavy options. But I think it’s always nice to broaden your horizons and try some weird and wonderful food. I think I’ve eaten horse as a child somewhere or other, and frogs legs and snails in Malta and France. But if you’re lucky enough to be somewhere like Brussels, you get the good stuff like Mussels and French Fries or waffles.

30. Don’t Be Afraid To Look Like a Tourist

I don’t mean amble around like a clueless fool, trailing passports and money belts. There seems to be a push to do everything ‘like the locals do’ lately. As if going on holiday to see another country and its wonders is somehow uncool. People suggests not visiting ultra-touristy spots, and things like that. But frankly, some places are ultra-touristy for good reason. Why go to Rome and miss out on the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain? They’re beautiful works of architecture that are appreciated for their history. Having said that, there are plenty of ‘off-the-beaten track’ spots to go, but don’t do them just because you don’t want to look like a tourist.

30 #traveltips for new travellers. Don't make the same #travelmistakes that I did!

27 thoughts on “30 Travel tips from (almost) 20 years of travelling

  1. What an enjoyable read! I agree with all the points that you have highlighted here. Sometimes, we plan and plan (like the visa thing you mentioned) and things could still go either way!

    Things for sharing such an informative post

  2. All really great tips! Some of these things I really hold as hard rules for travel and travel planning. The 45 days out thing is really difficult, because I’ve never seen any reason to the way plane tickets end up being priced. :/ But I’ve heard that number a bunch of times. Maybe someday I will give it a try.

  3. Hey there, this is a great list of traveling tips! I just go in to not booking the more than 45 days out! I started signing up for those email that track the prices. When it was a couple of weeks out from my trip, I went ahead and booked. I’m happy to say waiting till it was a bit closer helped save me money! 🙂

  4. Such great tips! I’ve been traveling for a lot of years myself. Even though I know these and agree with them, I can never get them all right. Hopefully next time I’ll have it all figured all out.

  5. These are great! I get frustrated sometimes when people act like being a tourist is shameful- and while I do try to avoid eating at restaurants that are total tourist traps there was no way I wasn’t getting a selfie in front of the Eiffel tower! #FarawayFiles

  6. Making a copy of your passport and notifying your bank before leaving on a trip overseas are two really great tips! I have also heard that some countries require your passport to be active within certain time frames, but it doesn’t hurt to be remind of this. #farawayfiles

  7. These are all great tips! It always surprises me how many people travel without insurance. Even seasoned travellers often forget some of these basic things

  8. Great advice! My favorite tip is don’t be afraid to look like a tourist! I want to see and do everything from off the beaten path destinations to the most popular places, and there’s no reason to feel like there is anything wrong with that! After all like you mentioned these places are popular for good reason. #farawayfiles

  9. Great list! I was giving you a virtual high-five about the extra tote – that one I discovered by accident after needing a way to bring all the Goldfish and candy from Target on my way back from the US to London, haha. It’s always with me when I travel now. I also like the reminder about tourist info centers, I’m always grateful to get their advice even though I’ve done lots of research. #FarawayFiles

  10. Such great tips! I don’t like plane food so I usually take my own snacks on board. I like to research where I’m going in advance and it’s a good idea to book popular attractions in advance – sometimes if you wait til you arrive, you’ll miss out – this happens a lot with places like Alcatraz.

  11. Excellent tips and you are a seasoned traveller. 🙂 My one pet peeve is people who try to take carry on luggage which is obviously not the right size and then they steal all the room in the overhead cabins. I noticed the last time we were in the US they were actually measuring and weighing the bags as people were checking in. Happy Travelling!

  12. Love these! I think the passport and visa ones are so key. My brother recently got denied a flight to Europe because he didn’t realize about the 6 month expiration thing. Also, I used to not pay attention to travel insurance and now use it for every trip. For peace of mind alone, it’s worth it. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

  13. Fan bloody tastic….great post Mate…enough Aussie there for you?

    My big thing was allowing soooo much time in between flights I had ages to spend with my luggage in LA before I could leave it with the airline. I had to ask a couple of people of my age to “mind it” so I could go to the loo. Only a few disadvantages of solo travel. People watching was a bonus.

    Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek & next week’s optional prompt is: Have You Ever…? Denyse

  14. Great tips and valid too! I absolutely agree with you on all points especially the last one. I used to be so conscious about looking touristy but got tired of it and not enjoying myself at all. I figured, who cares?! And you’re right about touristy places are touristy for obvious reasons. Love your post 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  15. Great post! I never thought about bringing an extra bag to carry extra items on the way back! I usually just leave a pair of shoes or something to make extra room in my bag!

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